The Narrow Way
Written: April 24th. 1848.  First Published: December 1848.

This poem was written at about the same time that Anne was putting the finishing touches to her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Edward Chitham notes that its metre is one which is sometimes used in the hymn books . . . 'As often in Anne's work, there is the feeling of a melody in the background, and this poem has become Anne's best known hymn.' On the manuscript it is untitled; its current heading, 'The Narrow Way', first appeared when the poem was published in the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights/Agnes Grey.

Its creation was probably provoked by the censure she and Emily were receiving from the critics over their first novels: Winifred Gerin writes:

' "The Narrow Way", which though ostensibly an exhortation to the Good Pilgrim not to flag in his progress, reflects all too evidently the deep hurt and disappointment she suffered at the incomprehension with which her own struggle upward had been received. . . . On the merits of its religious sentiments it is one of the poems which has ultimately found its way into hymnals and is, from time to time, sung on special occasions in churches. The quality which makes it so perennially touching, however, is surely that of wounded susceptibility, that "kind of constant appeal" for protection and encouragement which George Smith found so compelling of sympathy, and which Anne, where most she might look for it, was not to receive.' 131

Edward Chitham's writes that The Narrow Way

'. . . is a hymn of exhortation to the believer to be courageous as he toils along the upward path. The overtones are of The Pilgrim's Progress and the effort needed to 'hope through the darkest day'. Anne's last weeks are a proof that this part of her poetic output formed an integral part of her personality. The intensely sincere note in all her non-Gondal work forms one of her great attractions.' 132

This was the second poem Anne succeeded in getting published independent of her sisters. It first appeared in the December edition of Fraser's Magazine. It was also printed in the poetry column of The Leeds Intelligencer, under the heading 'From Fraser's Magazine for the present Month', on 30 December 1848. This was almost certainly the magazine that Anne was reading, when Ellen Nussey, on a visit to the parsonage, 'observed a slow smile stealing over Anne's face as they sat before the fire one evening. When she asked her why, Anne replied, "Only because I see they have inserted one of my poems."' 133

(See Chitham, 'The Poems of Anne Brontë', p.34, p.161 & p.194)

Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou shouldst stumble in the way
And faint before the truth.

It is the only road
Unto the realms of joy;
But he who seeks that blest abode
Must all his powers employ.

Bright hopes and pure delights
Upon his course may beam,
And there amid the sternest heights,
The sweetest flowerets gleam; --

On all her breezes borne
Earth yields no scents like those;
But he, that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

Arm, arm thee for the fight!
Cast useless loads away:
Watch through the darkest hours of night;
Toil through the hottest day.

Crush pride into the dust,
Or thou must needs be slack;
And trample down rebellious lust,
Or it will hold thee back.

Seek not thy treasure here;
Waive pleasure and renown;
The World's dread scoff undaunted bear,
And face its deadliest frown.

To labour and to love,
To pardon and endure,
To lift thy heart to God above,
And keep thy conscience pure, --

Be this thy constant aim,
Thy hope and thy delight, --
What matters who should whisper blame,
Or who should scorn or slight?

What matters -- if thy God approve,
And if within thy breast,
Thou feel the comfort of his love,
The earnest of his rest?

Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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